The candidates running to replace retiring Republican Rep. Jim Ramstad debated topics ranging from Iraq to social security last night.
Because there's no incumbent running, the third district race in the Minneapolis suburbs is one of the most closely watched in the country.
DFL candidate Ashwin Madia, a former Marine who served in Iraq, wants most U.S. troops withdrawn within two years.
His Republican opponent, Erik Paulsen, predicts troops could be out by then, too, but he argues the U.S. military should make the decision with the Iraqi government.
"The best thing we can do to make sure that we don't have a long-lasting mess here is to listen to the people on the ground. That's how we got into this mess. The politicians didn't listen to the folks that were on the ground that could make the educated decisions, and that's why we're finally seeing some success. Unfortunately, it wasn't done four years ago," Paulsen said.
Independence Party candidate David Dillon also favors troop withdrawal, and wants the U.S. to reduce military spending.
AARP sponsored the forum, and Social Security was one of the hot topics.
Madia said the current trumoil in the stock market demonstrates why social security money should not be diverted into private investments.
Paulsen argued Social Security should be "preserved," but he also favors additional incentives for Americans to save and invest.
Dillon said the two major parties are afraid to address the looming insolvency of Social Security, but he is not.
"You're going to have to put a little more money in or take a little less money out, or both. So if it's the third rail of politics, bring it to me. I'd like to put my tongue on it. It's not that complicated," Dillon said.
They also covered some so-called social issues.
As a state legislator, Paulsen supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But he objected when Madia accused him of leading that effort.
Paulsen said although he was House Republican majority leader at the time, Paulsen never even made a floor speech on the subject.
Madia, meanwhile, said he fully supports gay marriage.
"I look at the happiness my parents have through their marriage, and I wouldn't want to deny that to anybody. But what's important is that -- and this is a difference between the candidates -- I wouldn't take government time away from dealing with Iraq or the economy for these kinds of constitutional amendments," Madia said.
Dillon supports civil unions for same-sex couples.
The candidates meet again for two more debates next week.